Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring (2013) is based on the true story of a gang of teenagers who made a hobby out of robbing celebrity homes; stealing roughly $3 million worth of jewellery, handbags, clothes, and cash, in under a year. Their victims include celebrities such as Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Orlando Bloom, Rachel Bilson, Megan Fox, and Audrina Patridge. As a result of the media coverage of their crimes, the group paradoxically became celebrities in their own right, and this film documents the highs and inevitable lows of their time in the spotlight.
This film seems to be shot on a continuous Instagram filter: muted colour palette, soft light, few harsh colours, overexposure. The colour palette changes further into the film to a more darker scheme as the kids’ theft becomes more extreme, and they face the consequences of their actions. The change in colour scheme mirrors the escalation of crimes: from ‘checking cars’ and stealing handbags, comparatively minor offenses, to entering celebrity homes and taking giant bags stuffed to the brim with personal belongings. It was pleasing to note that despite the telling of a tabloid story that could easily be explored in a trashy way, Sofia Coppola’s signature aesthetic is consistent in this film. The scenes in the teenagers’ bedrooms are reminiscent of the dreamlike bedroom scenes in The Virgin Suicides (1999).
The script is frankly quite funny and extremely quotable. The voice is distinctly teenage, peppered with “like”s, and “literally” used inappropriately all over the place. Much of the dialogue from the piece which inspired the film is used, and it fits in seamlessly with the rest of the script. The dialogue is definitely one of the most refreshing parts of the film; however, it is the performance of some of the gang, particularly Rebecca Ahn (Katie Chang) and Sam Moore (Taissa Farmiga), which sometimes lets the script down.
No review of this film can be complete without a mention of Emma Watson. She shines as Nicki Moore, otherwise known as Alexis Neiers in real life. If you watch any videos of Alexis, you will know that Watson’s portrayal of her is spot on. Not only the accent, but her affect and demeanour is a complete portrait of a complex and apparently blameless person. Compared to the other actors, whose performances can be patchy and insincere at times, Emma Watson is the star of this film. Watson’s spiel to the press at the beginning of the film about her aspirations is delivered with the pleading, yet unmistakeably rehearsed, tone of someone who wants to publicly atone for their sins:
“I’m a firm believer in karma. And I think this situation was attracted into my life as a huge learning lesson for me, to grow and expand as a spiritual human being. I want to lead a huge charity organisation. I want to lead a country one day, for all I know.”
The soundtrack is a great selection of emblematic pop music, and the sound design of the film in general is particularly excellent. I noticed a pattern of ambient, minimalist electronic music whilst the kids were robbing houses, then loud pop music after they’ve gotten away with it; an auditory representation of the rush of stealing beautiful things. As the kids are getting caught, the sound design returns to the minimalist, methodical electronic music.
The film hesitates on the question of why the kids would commit these crazy heists. It doesn’t necessarily provide any concrete answers, aside from one character who is obsessed with conquering Lindsay Lohan’s house because she is her favourite celebrity and personal idol. Marc Hall (Israel Broussard) claims that “America has a sick fascination with the Bonnie and Clyde kind of thing”, as if to explain his role in the robberies. I think it is a really convenient excuse for people to label the group as materialistic or greedy. The compulsion that is driving them is anything but shallow; it is a deep and visceral desire for a lifestyle they don’t have. They are a part of an aspirational society, and want to have the celebrity lifestyle via as effortless a method as possible. By taking Paris Hilton’s jewellery, or Orlando Bloom’s Rolexes, they are able to take ownership of a fraction of their lifestyle.
However, I found that the film ended on a fairly awkward note. In her post-jailtime interview, Nicki gives her account of what it was like to serve time with Lindsay Lohan ironically staying in the same prison. The film ends with Nicki delivering a self-promo straight to camera, advertising her personal website so that viewers can keep up with her exploits after jail. It seems like an appropriate ending for someone who wanted a celebrity lifestyle, and Watson’s acting as Nicki is characteristically perfect. I’m not sure how else the ending would have gone, judging by Coppola’s other films. I think I expected something different.
Does the film glorify the crimes that the group committed? Not necessarily. The threat of police is a constant worry for both them and the viewer. It is clear that the group’s criminal actions have long-term consequences, despite any short-term thrills. The Bling Ring is a compelling watch and a supremely interesting insight into how far some people will go in order to attain their wildest dreams.
Watch the trailer here.